Beyond SACD with Redbook: Price No Object

I just read the SACD/DVD-A is Dead thread which bummed me out a bit as I have been pondering the purchase a Sony SCD-1.

If it is true that redbook has already or will soon eclipse SACD, is there any consensus on state of the art CD players or DACs that can actually approach the fun of analogue.

Some of you have suggested that the Sony SCD-1 offers glorious redbook, the new Musical Fidelity DAC seems to be chateau Lafite to some and snake oil to others.

Is there any consensus on world class, undisputed heavy weight champ redbook players and/or DACs these days?

I would especially appreciate your opinions on what you think is the best of the best -- not "sleepers", good for their price range etc.

I don't mind spending the big bucks, just want to enjoy music again.
We have done 4 shoot outs of the best of the best. Now please realize that since the shoot outs that we did just a couple of months ago there have been some changes.

Let me further add that I am a dealer for the Electrocompaniet EMC 1 and the Mephisto 2.

We compared the Sim Eclipse, very nice remote. The Audio Aero which has been redone we have not heard the new version. The price did go from $6600 to $8800 I believe, for better or worse it does not look much different except for the lack of buttons. The EMC1 with 24/192 upsampler now standard. The Audio Meca Mephisto 2, the Wadia 861, the Levinson 39S, the Accuphase 75.

This shoot out was done by the customers who brought over the players. I will first state that they are all very good and I cannot imagine anyone disliking any of them.

Most of them could improve the quality of their remotes but just nit picking.

In the shootouts the 2 consistently highest rated were the EMC 1 and the Audio Aero. The EMC 1 got the nod only because it has a touch better bottom end but they sound very much alike. The edge went to the EMC 1 I believe because it has a touch more extension, is heavier and feels more solid although the build quality on both is good, is more elegant looking, and being $1600 less at that time and $3800 now a better value. Let me state for those who believe that going direct is better (which I do not) the Audio Aero has a volume control.

I personally feel the Mephisto 2 is the best player on the market because it has such delicacy and finesse and is gorgeous to boot which does not hurt. It retails for $6600.
I had no vote in the shootout because I had no desire to influence the outcome I was curious since it behoves me to carry what the consumer likes.

The EMC 1 and Audio Aero are a touch more dynamic while the Mephisto gives you as much information but does it in a softer more refined way.

You might also want to go to I believe it is where consumers write reviews on their own experiences.
After reading several posts on this subject I've concluded that those people who believe that 16 bit/44.1kHz digital can be made (via HDCD, XRCD, Superbit, re/up/oversampling or other technologies) better sounding than hi rez digital (24 bit/88.2kHz or greater) are deluded themselves. This does not mean that everybody should go out a replace their redbook CD players. If you have a large collection of existing CDs it may make perfect sense to continue to optimize your redbook playback equipment. However, if you're interested in the absolute best in digital audio reproduction you will eventually have to migrate to a hi-rez format. These formats simply sound better than the redbook standard. We can only hope the record companies do their part by offering a vast and interesting music choices in these newer formats.

Cwlondon, before I can even attempt a direct response to your question, please state why you can't currently enjoy music.
As I said on the other thread, I believe that SACD is clearly better. This is not to say that you can't get good sound out of CD, but you have to use the interpolation methods of upsampling to "enhance" the sound with mathematical "fill ins" that were not recorded on the disc. It is much better to actually have the music info recorded from the performance or master recording, than to have to try to play "connect the dots" with an interpolation program. Of course, I know that many CD proponents on the other thread do not agree with my statements. They prefer "fill-ins, connect the dots, and interpolation programs". And if that's what they like, then that's fine for them. It's not fine for me, but can be acceptable if there is no alternative. Gladly, there are alternatives, and SACD is one of them. I guess I'm just one of those "wierdos from outer space" who believes that you can't improve the sound recorded on the source, you can only change it or degrade it on the way down the chain. This seems to be accepted practice on the analog page, but on the digital page, people seem to think that you can wave the "digital magic wand" and improve the source material. I don't buy this idea at all, if the goal is realistic reproduction of the original material. If the goal is to "airbrush" the sound like a Vargas Girl illustration, then maybe this is the answer. Not for me. If I want to play digital recordings, give me the most music info on the source disc possible. Don't sell me a $6000 airbrush in the form of upsampling DAC or other voodoo. I know this view is not popular, but it needs to be said by someone.
Good grief Twl, your post makes WAY too much sense. There is bound to be a fight break out any minute now.

For what it is worth, I do not doubt that the comments from A Sanctuary of Sound are honest and correct. Ultimately each of us must decide if the limited bandwidth of Redbook CD's are worthy of a 10K band aid.

I decided on the Sony ES 9000 SACD player because it has great Redbook playback and EXCELLENT SACD.

At it's current street price, this unit is worth buying for it's DVD playback alone.
I agree with A Sanctuary of Sound that the Audiomeca Mephisto II is one of the best CD player today.
I have been using the Mephisto II for 5 months and this player still makes me smile every night.

But SACD is too superior for any cd player if you play with the original DSD recording.

Even though i don't have a SACD player right now, i do have 6 SACD hybrid disc with original DSD recording which i'm going to use for the near future when i have some extra $$$$$ to buy the good SACD player.

Please don't make any negative comments anymore about the SACD and hopefully that SACD is not going to die as many people predict !

Please be honest that SACD with DSD recording is the second winner after the record !!

Good luck !
The consensus is AudioNote DAC 5 and CEC TX0 transport

Note: I have tried Hybrid SACD/CD's and these disks have such a good redbook CD layer that the SACD layer doesn't seem to be all that much better - at least in terms of early pressings of CD's vs. those remastered to SACD. Has anyone else noticed this?
I can only speak from my experiences. I owned the Marantz SA-1 (after a brief comparison against the SCD-1) and purchased a couple dozen SACD discs with the intention of finally eliminating the need for my Goldmund separates. WRONG!
Though the price differential is substantial, the best redbook equipment is better, and by a noticeable margin compared to the relatively recent SACD playback equipment. Then I compared the SA-1 against the EMC-1 (without the 24/192 board), the redbook player again was preferrable.

I wanted SACD to be better. Maybe someday SACD/DVD-A will fulfill its promise (if it/they survives), but until then ....
Just one man's opinion.
What has always puzzled me, is many SACDs are remixes of old recordings; some dating back to the 1940s and 1950s. The original source can't be up to modern recording media, so are we really hearing the original recording, or has someone like George Lucas played with it, and what we hear is a perfect fake?? Just wondering?
Jcbtubes,is there any pure DSD in your couple dozen of SACD discs ? Buy the Mark Levinson Vol.1 or Telarc Dave Brubeck and try it again ! If you still think and hear that your EMC 1 better than Marantz SA-1 .......??????
Amidst all this discussion, we should remember that many SACD-CD comparisons have been made with Redbook CD masters remastered in SACD, which is hardly the same thing as comparing CD to true DSD-recorded music. I'd go so far as to say that unless a given "tester" specifies that he or she used real DSD mastered SACDs, we cannot assume the comparison was between true SACD and Redbook PCM. The PCM master limits the quality of the DSD remaster even before it is made.

Another point, possibly more important. PCM is a technology that engineers have been refining for over 20 years. It's improved greatly over the years and for that I am grateful. However, at this stage the theoretical limits of the technology are being reached. Improvements are tiny little steps; real, but tiny. DSD, however, is still in its infancy and we can look forward to many years of improvement and refinement.

It's perfectly sensible to want a top-shelf player for CD, since we all have a lot of great music locked up in our PCM CDs that we want to enjoy, but as native DSD recordings become more available, CD will gradually be left further and further behind.

That's my take on it, at least for now.

Happy listening all!

I have to agree with JcbTubes - I too owned the Marantz SA-1 and while it is a great player felt it had a level of detail that was "in your face" on SACDs. Redbook was just okay. I then purchased an EMC-1 MkII and thought it was a bit better. Ultimately I settled on the Mephisto II which doesn't immediately present itself as being better, instead it seduces and captivates you over time and honestly becomes quite addictive. Scary! There is something that the Mephiso does which is different than any other player I've heard. Its virtues are not in hyper-detail but the way the music simply envelops you with that certain delicacy - the layered soundstage - depth between the speakers - texture... it really is amazing and I prefer that character to any SACD recording on ANY SACD player.

Gendut: SACD is detailed and seems to have more spacial information than ordinary Redbook. But... if you listen closely to your Mephisto compared to an SACD player, you will find that SACDs (as played by most current units) are simply not involving. The Sony XA777ES comes close to making this better however. Sony took a step back with this unit and seems to have tried to acheive a more "analog" presentation vs. hyper detail. This helps to make the SACDs sound a bit more involving but makes the gap between well recorded redbook and SACD seem much, much smaller.

Sugarbrie - I think someone like George Lucas has been playing with a lot of the recordings. Take a look at Miles Davis' Kind of Blue. How many times has that baby been re-issued? And now in Multi-Channel??
I have made a direct side by side of my heavily modified Sony SCD-1 to the Mephisto II. My SCD-1 with full Audiocom modifications is well beyond the Mephisto II in redbook, SACD is another level still. Do not forget how often people said cd would fail, then vinyl was dead.
If you want to believe in your up-sampled 16 bit for $$$$$ fine, if you have an open mind to what is possible, then SACD is here!
A side note, I was playing My SACD hybrid Alison Krauss "Forget About It" for a friend the other night. He was in heaven and I was squirming. It was flat and lifeless. The glow and shimmer of the strings was gone, the depth of her voice and the image of her chest and throat were missing. I was so unhappy with what I heard I stopped the player and turned up the lights to see if something was messed up. Turns out I forgot to switch to SACD, once again I returned to nirvana. If people don't hear the greatness of SACD, they simply are not able to hear.
My take on this is that every post here is correct in some way.

Redbook CD is the format for right now, lots of software and availability of the latest releases. Makes sense for those who are digital as an only source to get the best they can from their expensive system.

SACD is potentially a far superior format. It has not had time to evolve to it's ultimate capability. Some of us have heard the potential and are hoping for it's success.

My reference is analog. Still the ultimate performer at cost no object for high end audio consumers. Analogs problems are obvious. Requires great mechanical skill to make it work at its maximum potential, limited software for newer releases and expensive when your goal is the ultimate.

My reason for buying a CD / SACD / DVD player is because every time in the past that I bought state of the art Redbook digital, I got screwed.

Two things happen with ultra high end Redbook rigs. First you pay a lot of money to get what is the ultimate. Second you are outdated as quickly as buying a new computer.

It is not just the money that bothers me. I would pay almost any amount to get digital perfection. Buy the best and have it perform as well or better than my analog. I would have no regrets. I can tell you that based on trying dozens of digital play back systems that is simply not going to happen. At least with Redbook technology.

So, in the end, you can pay $10K, $20K, or more for Redbook playback and still not get state of the art. You can buy analog and get state of the art and not be able to access the latest software.

Or you can buy state of the art analog, a inexpensive CD / SACD and listen only to your favorite music that is unavailable on LP, and wait for things to get better.

If things don't get better, having $900.00 invested for both CD ( flawed ) and SACD ( not evolved ) formats is a comfortable place to be.

Now where is that 45 RPM single sided, virgin vinyl, 180 gram pressing of "Kind Of Blue?" The one that actually sounds like Miles.
Re, B's 4/19 question: redbook vs. remastered *to* sacd; Agreed, B! During a quick and relaxed comparison with a friend (he only brought 2 discs and his Sony 1), we actually favoured the redbook on my S-Line cdp over the sacd layer on the Sony. Of course, no original DSD recording involved (which is impressive, if fatiguing to my ears). Cheers!
Hmmmmm....this is all very interesting. Thank you for so many excellent posts.

Maybe I should just buy the Mephisto II for redbook with a Sony ES 9000 for DVDs and the occasional SACD?

Or go ahead with the SCD-1 as planned and buy the Audiomecca DAC? And a Sony ES 9000 for DVDs?!

Do any of the Audiomecca fans have a view on the transport vs. the DAC? Do you think the DAC would work its magical upsampling charms with the monster Sony or do I also need the quirky floating french transport.

Thanks for the advice. You're all invited for a drink and a demo if I can ever finish this system.

Cwlondon, I will catch heck for this comment, but in a test in my own system the Sony SCD-1 and the Sony ES 9000 were more a personality issue than a real performance issue.

In the deepest bass, particularly classical music, the SCD-1 does go deeper and with slightly more accurate timbre. The 9000 actually excelled in soundstage depth and midrange resolution, Stevie Ray Vaughn's "Couldn't Stand The Weather" comes immediately to mind.

The looser in the contest was the two year old Levinson transport and converter that was bettered by both players. The owner of the SCD-1 kept his unit, I kept my ES 9000, and the Levinson owner sold his gear on Audiogon the very next week. Used the cash to buy a used VPI turntable and arm and a new Sony just like mine.

Of course he got to hear all this in a direct comparison. Makes the decision much easier than talking about it.
Jadem6 - What is and what is not is relative to personal preference. The "shimmer and sparkle" quality that you speak of is clearly a quality present in SACD music reproduction (on early players). Whether that quality is something "George Lucas" added or the first generation SACD players emphasize, I do not know. If you were to compare SACD to vinyl or live music - I think you would find less "shimmer and sparkle" in both live music and vinyl.

The newer SACD players seem to lean toward less emphasis on shimmer and sparkle and attempt to present a more analog or life like - organic quality of the music.

With a new Sony SACD player, the difference between Hybrid layers is diminished simply because the SACD layer on these machines has less "shimmer and sparkle" making the differences less apparent. I too have the Allison Kraus SACD Hybrid disk.

Yes - the capability of SACD is greater than CD but ultimately the outcome depends upon consumer acceptance and the various implementations of the technology. Today we hear so many different sonic signatures in redbook players, just wait and see what happens when the well respected high-end companies really get going on development for the SACD format!!
Cwlondon: I own both the Audio Meca and the Sony ES 9000. I can tell you that I no longer even look at SACD releases. I never listen to any of the SACD disks I own. I only use the Sony for movies. For the first time, I'm satisified with my system and it was the addition of the Audio Meca Dac (an upgrade from a Dodson Audio Dac) that made the difference. It is a very special player... I can listen to it for hours and still get goose bumps!
From what I understand, the Sony players use the same SACD DAC chip to output the SACD and CD signal. This could account for the improved performance some of us seem to hear in Redbook on the Sony players. I also might mention that it was reported in a CES article that Mark Levinson was using a Sony DVP-S9000ES SACD player as a source to demo his audio products at the show. I guess he thinks it is pretty good, or he wouldn't use it for something a critical as a CES Show demo.
Getting back to the DAC issue, I gather that the SACD DAC acts like a high-rez upsampler to the CD signal. And being a 1-box player, the jitter inherent in Transport/Cable/DAC systems is lessened by 1-box construction, limited to whatever the transport produces, which I heard somewhere was quite low. So you get less jitter, upsampled CD, and SACD capability. And DVD that is par excellance. I have never heard a Linn CD12, or Capitole, or Mephisto, so I cannot comment on their particular performance, but I, like Albert, and Mark Levinson, have decided that the S9000ES is good enough for me. At least until the Mk2 comes out!
Eadese: Thank you.

Do you use just the Audiomeca DAC? With the Sony 9000 ES as a transport? Or do you use another transport?

And Twl, that is a very interesting point about the CES show. The one box theory makes sense as well.

Just for further discussion, one of Mark Levinsons salespeople at Red Rose recently told me that they now consider the new multichannel (777?) their SACD reference (although use it in 2 ch mode), perhaps even better than the SCD-1.

But I think it is very nice that the SCD-1 is really built like a tank.

So maybe I should buy one, the Audiomeca DAC and the 9000 for DVDs......

.....and a new turntable.......and......

Can anyone lend me some money?
You can buy a used Sony 777SACD player for around $1500. Buy a few SACDs, try it out. If you're not happy, sell it for what you paid.
I bought mine 2 months ago, it sounds better than my Sony XA7ES. I'm keeping both...
If you really like the 777 sound, upgrade to the SCD-1, they still show up sealed in the box...

Good Listening!
SACD is like a duck:walk...badly,fly...badly,swim...badly.I dont trust multi-purpose equipment.Sorry!He..He..He..He..He.
Oh boy...Today I received the FIM Hybrid SACD multi-channel version of Jazz at the Pawn Shop. This is absolutely the best I have heard digital sound. I am utterly speachless.
I agree that SACD and DVD-audio are totally dead plain and simple. Absolutly no quality software!!! Too late they have missed the window of opportunity. I would spend all you want on a great cd player like 47labs or Audiomeca with no concern of needing a new player any time soon. There will be totally new and better formats before SACD and DVD-audio have any idea what happened which will be a long time from now. Its about the music, buy a nice turntable and pick up a gazillion cheap records for less than the cheapest SACD/DVD players!
i agree with Albert and some others that very good or great vinyl is quite a ways beyond the best digital avalible today......and that would be SACD.....not Redbook....and these formats are not really that close.

i have not heard better Redbook than my Linn CD-12, it has a natural clarity and overall ease and drive that does mimic sacd......but.....the resolution of MOST sacds on my Marantz SA-1 is quite a bit better. even analog tape based sacds are generally better than the best redbook can do.

the recent sacds released by Analog Productions are a good example; "Waltz For Debbie" and "Chet" are 2 of the most familiar cds to myself and probably most of you. i own 3 different cd versions of "Waltz" including the XRCD and 2 cd versions of "Chet" including the gold Analog Productions versions. these 2 new sacds blow away the cd versions in almost every way; lower noise background, more detail, deeper soundstage, more believable instrument presentation, etc., etc., etc.,......

the negative about sacd is the slowness of new releases, not the performance. i will say that recent improvements in the performance of my system has made the differences between the various formats much more pronounced; a year ago i percieved that the CD-12 was closer to the Marantz SA-1 than i now percieve it to be.

in my system we sometimes start with the cd of a performance, then sacd, then 33rpm vinyl, then 45rpm is quite an eye-opener to hear the performance come alive.....the differences are not subtle.....they are significant to me and other listeners.
Mike is damn right. Even though i have a lot of CD's collection but i have to be honest that SACD is much better than my CD's.

SACD is coming and we rather get ready and even support them.

If you really love music = Vinyl
If you can't live with Vinyl = SACD
Mikelavigne, excellent post with great insight to your thinking and system preferences. I must say I wish more than anything that we were in the same city.

I and others in my audio group appear to have a great deal in common with you when it comes to musical priorities.

And to Audio999, nice short and to the point !
Albert, thanks for the kind comments. you have set the standard around here for enlightened musical direction for as long as i've been participating on Audiogon and the feeling is mutual on my desire to listen to your system(s).

the "less is more" tube-based, vinyl-lovin, shared musical pleasure approach to this hobby has resulted in considerable enjoyment, satisfaction and friendship for myself. i consider myself very lucky to be having such great fun.
Cwlondon: I have the Audio Meca Mephisto transport that I originally purchased with a Dodson Audio Dac. I upgraded the Dac last fall with the Audio Meca Enkianthus Dac. These are magic together in my system (Aloia pre-amp, Plinius amps, Dunlavy V speakers, audio techne interconnects and audio techne CD transformer. I use the sony as a one box player for DVD. I used to listen to some SACD, but that has gone by...
Over the past few days I have been messing with interconnects and tweaking/tuning my system to accomodate my Sony SACD player. The interconnects I used with the Mephisto weren't exactly right for use with the Sony. They were close but not perfect.

Now that I have spent some time with the Sony (tuned) I must say that going back to a redbook only player might not be in my future. Considering the upgradability of the new Sony XA777ES to include a tube analog output and separate tube power supply I honestly believe that this piece of equipment has the potential to surpass the performance I had once enjoyed with my redbook only player(s).
Something that hasn't been mentioned here is that SACD has built-in copy protection.. very serious built in copy protection - it is called "no digital output". The RIAA and artists want a format that can't be copied, and I am banking on Sony holding a strong line on this - and the music industry firmly supporting it. This has its disadvantages, obviously, but what I want is SACD software. I'll rip the redbook layer to mp3 if I want, or whatever, but when it comes to SACD...

I just recently purchased a 9000ES DVD/SACD player for $900 shipped. I picked up some original DSD recordings - almost all classical, some remasters from Red Rose Music (Mark Levinson's label), and some remastered analog stuff from Miles, etc.. The Sony remastered stuff really is not that good, I could see how a Mephisto or EMC could trounce it - but listening to pure DSD (the Lindsay Quartets Grosse Fugue for instance) or Levinson's pressings of Fisk playing Bach and Scarlatti - if you listen to these recordings on even a cheap SACD player like mine, and think your redbook player outpreforms them, you need to seriously have your hearing examined. I have a decent loudspeaker system, but most of my listening takes place on my Stax Omega phones - I'd consider them pretty damn reference - and the SACD sound is on another plane. I can't stand people saying that some new digital cable proved to be a "massive" improvement in their sound.. want to hear massive? Listen to pure DSD or well done remasters. That is massive. Everything else is trivial.

So, lets hope SACD makes it. I think there is a very strong likelihood for it. As for redbook, I really have to believe we have wrung every last bit of performance from it by now.. adjustable dither settings? Christ. That must say something about the current state of things..

I have tried to read every post on this thread and have tried to come to some conclusion. I am in a similar position to the original author of this thread. I beleive that new digital recordings that are designed for SACD likely produce the best sound we can achieve today. BUT!

What I want to know is, can a good SACD player do a better job of playing my 500+ redbook CD's than a really good redbook CD player or upsampling DAC?

This thread leads me to beleive that one needs a really good CD player or upsampling DAC for their redbooks, and a SACD player for real SACD recordings (whenever a decent number of them become available)......I would love to learn differently......

Remember that this is "a price is no object" thread, and what us mere mortals find acceptable may vary somewhat. I would thaink for most folks, the results of taking a decent Sony player to a modder like modwright would be acceptable, even a stock XA777ES is no slouch on redbook. There is some perception among the posts which I have seen (not neccessarily in this thread) that the redbook CD on the SACD players and discs may have been compromised to make the new format sound better, but I can't say if this is true or not.
I've read the entire thread with great interest, because I find myself in the same dilemma which Albert has described so well: Vinyl, if set up right and without compromise, is still the best sonically, but what about new releases, which won't come out as LPs.....So far, I've helped myself much the same way as Albert has described, except that I had my Sony modded by the Audience people. What I am wondering about however, is the question whether there is further improvement with Redbook rendering through the new upsamplers (192)like the DcS Purcell for example. I've heard conflicting reports. Perhaps someone can enlighten us more about this. It does seem to fit the topic. Cheers,